Book Reviews

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Divine Collision, by Jim Gash

Falsely accused of murder, along with his brother, Joseph, Henry arrived in Ihumgu, a juvenile imprisonment/detention facility. It more closely resembled punitive hard labor in the mornings, spending the rest of their time in “the custody,” a primitive concrete building. Violating any of the rigid rules brought barbaric punishment, including caning and being buried up to the neck. Punishment was first ordered by Rose, their cruel “caretaker,” and often delivered by fellow detainees, then by Rose. Later, further caning was ordered and administered again by detainees in an attempt to keep order and avoid Rose’s crosshairs. When Innocent, a sickly youth newly brought to Ihumga, was unable to keep up with work due to weakness, injuries, and asthma, Henry was ordered to cane him. For the first time, he challenged the orders, causing Rose to make empty threats for a few days.  Days later, when Henry realized he had no choice, but to deliver the strokes, he did so with leniency. Rose exploded in anger, beating Innocent and ordering him to be buried to his neck. The next day, Innocent’s attempt to escape drew the wrath of Rose once again. Detainees were again ordered to cane the boy, which led to his death the following day. Realizing the peril she was in, Rose pointed blame at Henry, his second accusation of murder. Months of detainment turned into years, all without ever having cases heard in court. Henry, taught by his parents to trust a loving and all powerful God, repeatedly rose above his circumstances to emerge as a leader with deep hope, faith, and impeccable character.

 

On the beach, the man saw a young boy throwing starfish back into the ocean. When the man questioned his actions and the fact that the boy couldn’t rescue all or make a huge difference, the boy responded that he made a difference to the one he was throwing. Jim Gash would reflect on that story many times in the coming years.

 

Gash, who had told himself that he would never go to Africa, found himself there for a few brief days to help interview boys and gather evidence with the intent of speeding up trial dates. Planning a brief visit to make a difference to a few boys, with no intent to return, Jim came face to face with his calling  to Africa when he encountered Henry. In this divinely appointed collision, Jim came to the realization that love isn’t just about prayer or well wishes, but about following through with action. Jim determined to defend Uganda’s children caught in the rigid and slow moving judicial system. Thus began a long relationship with Henry and with the Ugandan government, where Jim’s actions would impact many, now and in the future.

 

Layers of the story are strategically peeled back to reveal how characters came to be in their present situations, yet at the same time, moving the storyline forward chronologically.

 

This book is very well written, unfolding in a complex but effective manner. The style and material beg to be chronicled in a movie.

 

I could not put this book down. Depicting Uganda’s culture and embracing deep, actionable faith, it is an inspiration to do more than observe, wish, and pray for, but to “put some skin in the game” by investing ourselves.

 

I received a Kindle formatted ARC of this book from Worthy Publishing through NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It

by Kelly McGonigal, PH.D.

Coming from Kelly McGonigal, I should not have been surprised by her encouraging and practical explanations and strategies. Her message is simple but is often difficult to accept, that stress, or rather one’s perception of stress, can be beneficial.  In fact, we can thrive while under stress, because the body produces reactions and substances to protect, to foster courage, to perform, to problem solve, to challenge. Kelly supports her assertions, and her own change of mind toward stress, with research and stories. She doesn’t just make a point, then leave you to find your own path. Instead, she lays out clear steps, such as acknowledging that stress occurs because we care deeply about something, and using the energy toward reaching goals and values. Stress can empower one with strength, greater success, courage, compassion, and behaviors of seeking a network of support. Embracing stress, even through some of life’s toughest circumstances, changes thoughts about oneself and what can be handled. Making the choice to change one’s mindset about stress can actually change bodily responses and chemistry, thus can be transformational, leading to a healthier, happier life.

The implications of research she presented are vast and I found her style and content highly motivational. This should be required reading in many circles and professions, including education. It is certain to be one of the most life changing self-help books.

This book was a LibraryThing Early Reviewer ARC from Avery, a member of Penguin Group, in exchange for my honest review.
Activate Your Brain  by Scott Halford

The brain operates differently depending on whether it feels safe or threatened. What we choose to think about, to mull on, can either make life better or worse by giving us a feeling of more control or less control. Even slight brain-friendly choices affect our brain functions, and can dramatically alter our energy, motivation, and sense of control. Activation begins with understanding that the ability to make choices puts us in control, is experienced as a desirable reward by the brain, and impacts our lives. Making deliberate choices to let go of pressure and worry leads to repair and growth of the brain. Small choices lead to new behaviors. Choices compound, so don’t be afraid to start small, but start now.

Making deliberate choices as to what we feed our thoughts sounds so simple, but has such a major impact. This is great practical advice and because it’s built on making small adjustments, it’s so easy to begin. The rewards the brain experiences are so desirable that healthy choices become easier.

Halford presents neuroscience foundations in a manner easily understood by the lay person., and the steps laid out are amazingly easy to do. If improving life appeals to you, then this book should be at the top of your list.

I received this ARC through NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Finding the Worm, by Mark Goldblatt

Quentin is ill, seriously ill, but the all school interruption on the intercom for Quentin’s closest friends to hightail it to the counseling office forbodes a far worse possibility. Miss Medina’s encouragement of a positive prognosis falls on deaf ears, and Rabbi Salzburg, who bares physical resemblances to Mr. Magoo of cartoon fame, does little to assuage Julian’s fears for Quentin and uncertainties about heaven.

Rich characterization from Twerp provides depth and familiarity with the colorful cast of characters, yet, with Goldblatt’s wit and humor while tackling a serious subject, this sequel easily stands on its own.

For young people: You will laugh, celebrate, and even shed a few tears with your favorite characters, who continue to grow up alongside you. Danley makes yet another surprising appearance, giving you pause to reflect on what’s really important in life.

For teachers: Attention to location details makes this book a perfect choice for combining a Google Lit-Trip with historic research, especially in regard to the Browne house.

For adults: While following the storyline of a youth preparing for his bar mitzvah, Finding the Worm unveils the realities of life and the sometimes painful metamorphosis of a boy becoming a man.

For all: If you ever have an opportunity to invite or to hear this amazing author in person, do so! You will be glad you did! (More than 500 students and teachers would attest to this).

Thank you to Random House Children’s for sharing this ARC with me.

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